Don’t look now, no, check that, go ahead and take a peek; in fact, start staring. Because, despite little fanfare, there’s a darn good gig going on with Montana State University’s Billings women’s basketball up the hill there on North 27th Street in their hard-to-pronounce gymnasium.
Tenth-year coach Kevin Woodin’s troops are 21-6, with two regular season home games left, tonight and Saturday, both at 7 p.m. inside Alterowitz Gym. That includes a recent 11-game win streak, sprint kicking themselves atop their Great Northwest Athletic Conference and a NCAA Division II No. 25 national ranking.
Wow, top-25 with 310 lady hoops-playing Division II schools – not too shabby. They’re a perfect 13-0 at home.
Good coaches, and Woodin is certainly one with 150 career college wins coming into this season, want their squads peaking at season’s end. The snowballing hopefully rolls on as the Lady Yellowjackets play in their conference tournament after the regular season, commencing on March 5, and then participation in the D-II West Region playoff tournament, thanks to their exceptional season.
The winner of the eight-team West Region will be one of eight teams that go on to the national tournament in Erie, Pa., in late March. Woodin says only one women’s MSU Billings team has gone on to the Elite Eight event, in 1998-99.
However, Woodin coaches in the present, one game at a time, one tournament at a time. If fact, he can’t tell you where the national championship is to be held: “Back east somewhere, in Pennsylvania, I think.”
So there’s the setup. Local sports fans may ponder why this Woodin group is separating itself from the pack, with a chance to match or surpass the school’s all-time best season, 25-6, with the 1998-99 team.
Well, there’s a sign in the coach’s office, on the back wall, just over his left shoulder when he’s seated: Winners are ordinary people with extraordinary determination.
Take a look at this year’s team picture on the school’s website. There are no high-jumping sleek gazelles, or jitter-bug quick point guards. No large rear-ended wide bodies. Just wholesome-looking women from mostly rural communities around the state – all 15 players, in fact, come from Montana. One gets the impression they’re probably extraordinary in the classroom. They are.
“When we recruit, we first look at players who are going to be academically successful,” Woodin said, noting the team’s GPA for the first semester was 3.61 and for the last six years his teams have been in the academic top 25 in D-II. “So we’ll get perhaps that player who is an inch or two shorter, but has a motor that just never stops running.
“Coaching basketball is important, the Xs and Os, but as coaches we work on building team chemistry, to beat teams by communication, to play hard, and to have a closeness, the coaches with the players and the players with one another. A strong bond is important for me. Teams just don’t have it, you have to really work hard at it, and we do.
“We’ve been lucky. All our players are from Montana and that’s unique. We’ve rallied around that.”
Woodin says he’s fortunate to a degree because most of his players come from good Montana high school programs. They’re used to winning and most come in fundamentally sound, a big head start.
That’s the case with his three seniors, Austin Hanser from Billings Central, Fairfield’s Chelsea Banis and Bobbi Knudsen from up north in Malta. The girls took different routes to get to their final Yellowjacket season, but their varied journeys give more insight into the team’s success this year.
Locals remember the 5-7 Hanser leading Billings Central to a state hoops title her senior year. She was the most valuable player in the Class A final.
Then on to Rocky Mountain College, starting at guard in both her freshman and sophomore seasons. In fact, in her second year with the Lady Bears, she was all-Frontier Conference. That’s as good as it gets.
But Hanser, who also excelled as a goalie with Billings Central’s powerhouse soccer teams, didn’t feel right academically at RMC, which “just wasn’t the right fit for me.” So she transferred to MSU Billings with expectations of keeping the good, well, good.
But she sat, and that wasn’t always easy. She believed she could have started, but that’s the competitor coming out. She stayed team first; it’s ingrained in her, and Coach Woodin’s program stressed the same, so that made it easier.
In the meantime, she earned GNAC all-academic honors her junior year. Now in the final quarter of her senior campaign she’s been starting, right about the time the team is peaking. That’s not coincidence.
“Austin is a fireball, she does the dirty work for us, getting a steal, taking the charge,” Woodin said. “She enjoys getting everyone pumped up, when someone hits a three or takes a charge.”
In a roundabout way, Banis landed at MSU Billings after spending four years at the university’s main campus in Bozeman. The 6-4 center got a full-ride scholarship after a stellar career at Fairfield, where they farm, go to church, play sports and win state titles.
Like Hanser, Banis played well from the start at Montana State, averaging double figures as a Lady Bobcat freshman until she blew her knee out. She medical redshirted a season and came back with a productive sophomore season, but saw diminished playing time her junior year.
In the meantime she graduated in four years, like most responsible students do, and liked MSU-Billings master’s degree program in health administration.
“I really wasn’t thinking about playing basketball here; I just wanted to start my master’s degree,” Banis said. “I thought in Bozeman they really didn’t take the time to get to know you as a person, you were just a player in their program. But here, I saw it was different with Coach Woodin. He cares about his players, he takes the time to get to know you, and that was one reason I decided to come back and play my last year.”
The coach said he was lucky to talk Banis into playing. Lucky is probably too weak a word.
Real lucky, or really, really lucky. A big player with a nice soft shooting touch, she is the team’s second leading scorer and has taken some of the rebounding pressure off junior forwards Janiel Olson and Shepherd’s Kayleen Goggins.
Faith is part of her life, Philippians 4:13 her favorite Bible verse. I can do anything through Him, who gives me strength. Banis hopes to own and operate a home health care business in the future, probably near hometown Fairfield. Seems like she’ll have strong backing.
Five seasons back, Woodin had one of his only sub-.500 seasons. Since then it’s been a rise up – 16, 17 and 18 wins. And now this season.
The elevation started when Knudsen arrived on campus. She cracked into the starting lineup about 17 games into her freshman season and has been there ever since. She has scored at least 17 points a game the last three seasons, and she also leads the team in assists.
She’s good. She’s All-American good at 5 feet 8 inches. One of the best players in the country, says her coach. Each year, Woodin says, Knudsen has stepped up her point guard leadership, it’s vocal now, before it was by example.
She’s a gym rat. A fit, sculptured one at that, with comely features. Teammate Monica Grimsrud remembers the team having a full practice, followed by the MSU Billings volleyball team practicing. And there was Knudsen, says Grimsrud, waiting at the door for the volleyballers to finish, itching to get into the gym and shoot – all by herself into the night.
Why so many good athletes from tiny cold Malta up on the Hi-Line, Knudsen was asked. Her teammate Courtney Henry also hails from Malta, as does Kendall Denham, a future talent, who’s redshirting for the men’s team.
“That’s all we have to do in Malta. Play sports.”
Knudsen, a biology major who’s also all-academic in the conference, plans to go to veterinarian school one day. Woodin thinks she has the goods to play pro ball, perhaps in Europe, if she decides to.
For the seniors, the regular season ends Saturday night against the University of Alaska Anchorage. Senior Night. Maybe some revenge too; Anchorage whupped up on the ‘jackets by 31 in early December.
Take a peek. No, go ahead and stare. Pay the measly $5 and send them off nicely. A fine senior season. Fine college careers. Hardly ordinary.
Last Updated on Thursday, 27 February 2014 19:08
For Eastern Montana College Alumni Mark and Angie Dawson, the blueprint for life is giving back.
Central Montana natives, the Dawsons both graduated from what was then Eastern Montana College — Mark with a bachelor’s in mass communications in 1990 and Angie with a bachelor’s in elementary education in 1993.
“It’s important to be engaged in things that matter,” Mark Dawson said. “For us, that’s being engaged with higher education, building positive relationships and the continual quest to provide a productive and positive working atmosphere. And, perhaps most importantly, it means giving back.”
Montana State University Billings has been a longtime beneficiary of the Dawsons’ generosity. Most recently, the couple’s businesses — Century 21 Hometown Brokers and Classic Design Homes — partnered with City College to create the blueprint of a groundbreaking project for carpentry students.
In September, the Construction Technology-Carpentry program teamed up with Classic Design Homes to provide students with the hands-on experience of building a home from the ground up.
Developed as a six-credit capstone course, the project will span over two semesters, requiring students to be on-site 25 hours each week.
The students’ efforts will culminate with the home being featured in the annual New Home Showcase in June, teaching students aspects of local home sales.
Dawson said proceeds from the event will benefit, in part, carpentry program scholarships and materials. Dawson said he anticipates the donation will be upward of $12,500.
Five students in the carpentry program and their instructor Terry Madtson have worked closely with Classic Design Homes on the blueprints and foundation of what will be a 2,658 square-foot house on Billings’ West End.
The ranch-style house, located at 4002 Wild Ridge Meadows Drive, will feature four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a finished basement, three-car garage and a partially covered back deck.
Formed in 2006, the carpentry program provides students with skills required to work in a variety of construction settings common in both rural and metropolitan areas.
The program is modeled after the “House as a System” design to integrate concepts with application of building a house from the ground up.
The two-year program coursework includes understanding building codes, blueprint reading and sketching, estimating, site layout, concrete work, framing, interior and exterior finish, cabinet making and installation and deck work.
Graduates earn an associate of applied science or certificate of applied science degree upon completion of the curriculum.
MSUB Alumni Relations Director Sarah Brockel said the project partnership is a notable example of how alumni support helps ensure the success of MSU Billings students.
“This collaboration is much more than building a home,” Brockel said. “It is creating a foundation of cooperation in the Billings community.”
Madtson said students involved in the project are gaining an educational foundation and an expansive perspective into the construction industry. “More important, they are making connections in the community which could lead to future employment.”
Brady Henderson, a sophomore in the program, said he and his classmates have already been approached by Classic Design Homes about summer employment.
“This has been a great opportunity to meet potential employers,” Henderson said. ”This opportunity has really taught us every facet of the trade.”
“It’s important to bridge the community and the University,” Dawson said. “That’s really what this project is all about.”
Dawson said the Billings building industry is always looking for skilled carpenters, foremen, drafters and project managers.
And although the partnership is mutually beneficial, he said the idea ultimately is to support the students.
“It makes sense to support the students because the University is generating the educated workforce required to support our local economy,” Dawson said.
In fact, Brockel said that of about 27,000 MSU Billings and Eastern Montana College alumni, nearly half are living and working in Yellowstone County.
The Dawsons’ most recent support for City College builds on nearly a decade of contributions they’ve made to MSU Billings and student scholarships.
In 2011, Alumni Relations presented Mark Dawson with the Exceptional Achievement Award as part of the 29th Annual Outstanding Alumni Awards. The recognition is given to alumni who have made exceptional contributions to society, their professions and the University. He serves on the Foundation Board of Trustees.
“Mark and Angie have been so supportive,” Brockel said. “We are inspired to have that kind of commitment from our alumni. It is public-private partnerships like this that benefit MSUB and our community.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 January 2014 12:09
MISSOULA – Harrison Cooper of Billings recently received a $2,000 Bonhomme Scholarship from the University of Montana.
Cooper, a 2010 graduate of Billings Senior High School, is the son of Mark and Carina Cooper of Billings. He is a junior at UM majoring in biology with an emphasis in ecology and organismal.
The Bonhomme Scholarship Fund was established from the estate of Peter and Elvi Bonhomme of Big Timber.
Last Updated on Thursday, 30 January 2014 12:06
“The Last Good Halloween,” by Giano Cromley. Tortoise Books, www.tortoisebooks.com. Paperback, 235 pages.
By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost
Kirby Russo has a problem. A bunch of them, actually. His disengaged mom has lived with a slew of stepfathers. His high school grades are low. He is sent to St. Vincent Hospital for psychological evaluation after he wrecks the family car while trying to bump a bully’s bicycle. He sort of likes a girl at school but isn’t quite sure what to do about that.
Of such adolescent complications is cobbled a new novel by Giano Cromley, who was born in Billings and now teaches English at Kennedy-King College in Chicago. He sets the book in Billings during the Dukakis-Bush election of 1988, and he weaves a sweet and often funny tale of high school angst and confusion.
For Kirby, a high school sophomore, Problem No. 1 is keeping track of the Bradley-Returns Index, the daily odds that his most recent stepfather will return to the family home in Billings. The odds aren’t good: Bradley isn’t even Kirby’s real father, or, as he puts it, the Original Biological Contributor. That man blew through town as a third baseman for the Billings Mustangs, was gone after one season and never returned.
Nor does Kirby really care all that much for Bradley. But Bradley did bring a certain stability to Kirby’s unsettled life, and his apparent replacement, a neighbor from across the street, has little appeal.
Things aren’t much better at school until Kirby meets a girl, Izzy Woodley, whose home life is even more troubled than his own. She dresses in black, cheats on a typing test, hangs out with cigarette-smoking juveniles and reads some really serious literature. They strike up an off-kilter romance that occasionally threatens to ignite into something more.
Kirby’s only friend, Julian, comes from a picture-perfect household that, it turns out, also is falling apart. So all three kids are carrying excess baggage when they commandeer a relative’s car for a drive to Great Falls in an effort to talk Bradley into coming back to Billings.
It’s not much of a plot, really, and not much comes of it. But Mr. Cromley has a light touch and a keen ear for dialogue. His observations on adolescent life may not be piercing, but they ring true. Kirby steers his way through life with an endearing blend of awkwardness, personal charm, humor, anger and defiance, trying, at least, to every day get a little better.
Fair warning: Not much is made of the Billings connection. Kirby’s school sounds a lot like Senior High School – there’s even a KwikWay across the street – but it’s called Roosevelt High. Reference is made to what must be Shotgun Willie’s, but it’s been renamed Cattle Call.
Odd bits and pieces here and there point to a Billings setting – the sugar beet factory, an art gallery on Montana Avenue – but this novel could have been set in just about Anywhere, America.
Perhaps that’s just as well. The problems of high school students as they negotiate the boundaries between childhood and adulthood seem to be universal problems, certainly not a Billings phenomenon. But the grace with which Mr. Cromley draws his vision of this corner of the world makes the book a welcome addition to the Montana bookshelf and perhaps a sign of more and better to come.
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 January 2014 12:41
Christine Ray of Billings was among the more than 200 Black Hills State University graduates awarded degrees during the University’s 166th commencement ceremony last month. Ray received a bachelor of science in education in elementary education.
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 January 2014 12:39
St. Vincent de Paul and Redline Computers have joined together for a new program to assist under-privileged students in Yellowstone County.
Project REBOOT (Refurbished Electronics Bringing Out Opportunities Together) will refurbish and restore non-functioning computers donated to St. Vincent de Paul, and in turn St. Vincent de Paul will make them available for needy area students.
Mike Hines, owner of Redline Computers, said the program gives his company the chance to give something back to the community.
“Many of these machines St. Vincent de Paul receives would end up in the landfill. With a little care and a few replaced parts, we can bring these machines back to life.”
St. Vincent de Paul receives dozens of donated non-functional machines each year, among items the charity obtains for resale.
Ed Zabrocki, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, explained how the machines will benefit the community: “Many students, young and old, in Yellowstone County need a functioning computer for school studies but can’t afford them. With the help of Mike and Redline Computers, now they can.”
The rebuilt machines students will receive include a CPU, monitor, keyboard, mouse, power cables and speakers if they are available.
The first group of restored computers went to Tumbleweed in November for its HopeLink Transitional Living Program, a local nonprofit organization that provides services to run-away, homeless and otherwise at-risk youth and their families.
Students must be enrolled in a local educational program to qualify to receive one of the repaired machines from Project REBOOT. If you know someone who needs a machine to continue studies, contact Vicki Massie, Volunteer Coordinator at St. Vincent de Paul.
Last Updated on Thursday, 16 January 2014 09:54
About this time four years back a rail-thin 20-year-old, with nary a kilo of insulation fat on his frame, met frigid Old Man pending winter for the first time.
Between teeth-chatters and involuntary shivers, his near-frozen mind thought there was but one way to thaw out of his arctic ache.
Get out. Go back.
“That first winter (2009-10) I couldn’t see myself staying here in Billings; I was ready to get out of here. I was saying to myself, I can’t stay here,” said Rocky Mountain College scholar and athlete Noah Kiprono. “I had a good jacket, but still I had never been in zero degrees Fahrenheit. The coldest I had ever been in was maybe 50 degrees.”
Kiprono stayed, survived somehow despite his wintry woes, 9,000 miles-away homesickness and weird looks from local folks who didn’t think he could speak or understand a lick of English, bringing frustration. Something was there in his bloodlines, family and tribal, albeit thin ones, that kept him here.
And the former farm kid from Kenya is now reaping a pretty darn good harvest.
On Saturday, he’ll lead the Bears team into their first-ever NAIA Cross Country National Championships down in Lawrence, Kan. The harriers’ coach expects continued goodness from his No. 1 man, Captain Kiprono, and the squad.
“He is ready to have a top-30 finish, which would qualify for All-American status, said RMC coach Alan King. “And as a team we are ranked 21st nationally, and I think we can do better than that (on Saturday).”
Earlier this fall, Kiprono set the school cross country 8K record of 24:39, a goal he’d set. In May, he’ll graduate with dual degrees, a four-year in business administration, coupled with a master’s in accounting. He’s equally proud of all. The fifth-year senior tells us the story of how, despite wanting to go home, he even came to Rocky. It’s not what you might expect.
First, some background on his background.
Those in distance running know there’s a Kenyan tribe residing along the western reaches of the country, near Uganda, that produces arguably, many say for certain, the best distance runners in the world. The Kalenjin tribe numbers about a tenth of the nation’s 41 million population.
Kiprono is from the tribe.
Legendary Kenyan runners come from the Great Rift Valley where the Kalenjin people grow tea and maize (corn to us) in the temperate high lands, ideal for distance training.
Kip Keino is credited with starting the Kenyan track and field boom, upsetting American wonderboy miler Jim Ryun in the 1968 Summer Olympics. Later, Henry Rono further elevated national pride in the sport with unheard of 5K and 10K times back in the late 1970s. Now there are so many Kenyan stars, seemingly a different one each year winning the prestigious Boston Marathon, it’s hard to keep track. Young Kalenjin boys and girls dream of being Kenya’s next superstar and start training early, once identified.
Not so with Kiprono.
He grew up outside the small town of Litein, on the southern edge of the Rift Valley. His father farmed tea leaves and maize, and pastored. His mother taught grade school. He says his work ethic came from toiling in the fields alongside his father. And both parents valued education.
But surprisingly, Kiprono didn’t run distances as a kid. He liked soccer when he wasn’t gathering tea leaves to haul over to the Litein Tea Factory, or tending to the family’s cows and sheep.
He stands almost six feet, with still little fat on his 142-pound body. He speaks softly, slowly, gives careful thought before answering. One can hear an English accent, as he makes businessman-like eye contact. He dresses like an Ivy Leaguer, and his humility surfaces right away, that, and a nice, young man’s smile.
“I didn’t really run in high school, Kiprono recalled. “Once we were forced to run in class, seven miles. That was about the only time I really ran in school. And I didn’t come in first.”
He knew about the great Kenyan runners from his tribe. Keino, Rono and more recent star Bernard Lagat were from nearby Nandi Hills. But he concentrated on his studies, doing well. He graduated as class president from his high school in 2007.
Later he spent a year at an agricultural and technical college outside Nairobi, the country’s capital, three hours from his hometown. There he bumped into some guys from around Litein who were distance running, so he joined in. Nothing real serious, a few races here and there. The college didn’t even have a team, says Kiprono.
It was also at the Nairobi college that someone told Kiprono about a Kenyan who went to school and ran track in a far, faraway land - Rocky Mountain College in Billings City, Montana. United States of America. So Kiprono “googled” the school. He found names and email addresses. He found out about an international study program for foreign students, with scholarship aid for the qualified. Did it all on his own.
When he briefly exchanged emails with Coach King, Kiprono recalls King telling him to apply to RMC, get accepted, and then they would talk about possibly competing. Certainly no serious recruiting took place, whether a Kalenjin or not.
Kiprono said things happened quickly. He applied to Rocky in May 2009, was accepted with a partial scholarship. He secured a visa. A whirlwind summer with excitement – and trepidation. He then took his first jet airliner trip, a round-the-world doozy at that.
“I remember taking off and looking back down at Nairobi and saying to myself, I’m going to a place that I don’t know where I’m going to, I don’t know who is there, I don’t know anyone there, and I don’t know when I’ll be back,” Kiprono said. “But I’m going anyway.”
He landed in Billings on Aug. 22 and wasn’t impressed. He thought the town was tiny, at least compared to Nairobi. Nor was Coach King impressed by his new runner after the first workouts.
“He wasn’t in very good shape. He had to stop and walk back on his first run, so I’m sure I was thinking it was going to be a lot of work to get him to improve,” King said.
But the coach saw something right away.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect anything or see anything special until he got here and I met him,” King said. “It was my philosophy that brought him here. I’m a firm believer that everyone deserves a chance to run and prove themselves. If runners are willing to dedicate themselves to the program and the training, they will get better, so I gave him a chance to prove himself. There was going to be culture shock, an adjustment period, but he adapted quickly.”
In the end, the coach was glad to get the runner from that renowned “running tribe,” whose mastery is forever debated. Sport scientists hypothesize it’s got to be the high-altitude training, or the want-to-be-like-Kip culture, no, a junkless diet of beans, corn, rice and water. Even skinny ankles and calves, with little drag weight away from the body’s center of gravity, is a genetics-based wild guess. Or poor rural boys having to run three miles to school each day, each way, is one you hear.
But one trait stands out above all. Coaches see it. That rare commitment. Quiet, painful toil, without complaint.
“(Kalenjin tribe) has a long history of success so the standard is there automatically, so there is some pressure to be good,” King said. “However, the main factor is that they are not afraid to work hard ... extremely hard.
“(Kiprono’s) work ethic is what has made his achievements possible and has made him a successful person. He is someone I can always depend on, not just in a coach/athlete relationship, but as a friend.”
He ran his final indoor track season last spring, so the Lawrence race Saturday is it. He hopes his parents come to graduation in May; he hasn’t seen them since, well, August 2009. He sees his accounting career beginning in his home country, probably in Nairobi.
Any possible professional running after RMC, he’s asked. Probably not, comes the thoughtful response. He calls himself “middle of the pack” – certainly by Kenyan standards.
He’s already an NAIA All-American in the marathon with a 2:29 time. But the world’s best, Kenyan Wilson Kipsan, ran 2:03.23.
“Most of the Kenyan runners start young. Maybe I would have been faster if I would have started young like most Kenyan runners do. But I may race some after college,” Kiprono said, noting he did not seriously train until he was 19.
He’s from Kalenjin tribe, yes, but too far behind the starting line, with so many ahead. Can’t beat them, he says.
But, he beat Old Man winter in Billings City, Montana. United States of America.
Last Updated on Thursday, 21 November 2013 11:56
Gov. Steve Bullock and local school officials used Tuesday’s “Take a Veteran to School Day” assembly to say thank you.
When Shaun Harrington, principal at Castle Rock Middle School, announced that Todd Nevin had been named Montana Veterans of Foreign Wars Teacher of the Year, deafening applause lingered as students and staff clapped and clapped for him.
School staff said the crowd for the Castle Rock event numbered about 850, with 650 people in the bleachers, 100 in the band and 100 in the center area of the gym.
The 90-minute assembly received support from major players in Billings, including Charter Communications executive Kathy Groves, who said HISTORY (the History Channel) developed the national program specifically to link vets across the nation with students.
The students at Castle Rock exuded an energy exponentially greater than their sizes and ages. Applause roared throughout the gym as the band played popular and patriotic songs. Led by Tak Engle, the 80-piece band blared “We Got the Beat,” recorded originally by the Go-Go’s. The band also played the “Star Spangled Banner.”
A female Marine captain at the assembly, the smartly turned out Capt. Diane Salmela, 26, wore her hair tightly tied up in a braid behind the nape of her neck. Her immaculately pressed blue trousers with one bright red stripe down either side set her apart. She accelerated smoothly, yet snapped in precisely yet softly measured steps as she walked respectfully in front of the crowd to implore the audience for help for Toys for Tots.
From Cameron Park, Calif., Capt. Salmela said she was an inspector instructor for the 4th Law Enforcement Battalion Reserve in Billings. As she stepped in precisely rhythmic cadence over to the podium, Salmela embodied the military ideal of neatness, efficiency, confidence and contained power. Once there, she said her mission was to thank veterans and help needy kids.
One student, Whitney Wells, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, invited a veteran, Aaron Flint, 33, to the assembly with her family. Flint said he was a captain in the infantry branch of the Army National Guard and that he was honored to be included in the assembly.
Bonnie Wells, 41, Whitney’s mother, said she enjoyed the support displayed for the veterans in Billings. Whitney, who has played clarinet for four years, has now begun to study oboe.
Although Whitney said she did not want to be in the military, she said she fully supported the efforts of her nation’s military. Citing a fear of the sound of guns, Ms. Wells said she would not be a good candidate for military service.
She appeared to be thrilled with just the opportunity to invite a veteran to her school assembly and to hear Gov. Bullock speak.
Gov. Bullock said, “Montana is the No. 1 state for families to go overseas or away for military service. Today is ‘Take a Vet to School Day.’ The vets fought to make sure we’d be in good shape.”
Nicki Hoffman, vice principal, said, “Families’ sacrifices go unknown, single moms are all alone. We need to think of our family members in their own branch of service. Mrs. Kelly Smith’s husband is in Afghanistan with the Drug Enforcement Administration. One of her sons is a cadet at United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and her other son is a cadet at the Merchant Marine Academy in King’s Point, N.Y.”
Superintendent Terry Bouck said, “There is one thing they can’t take away from you, and that is an education.” Bouck went on to say how proud he was of Gov. Bullock for enduring a dangerous journey to Afghanistan to visit troops stationed there. Then he introduced the VFW Teacher of the Year, Mr. Nevin.
The only faculty member wearing a black “Prisoner of War – Missing in Action – We Will Never Forget You” tie, Mr. Nevin appeared overwhelmed by emotion. He struggled to catch his breath, fought back tears and, after what seemed like several minutes, finally gained enough composure to address the audience.
“We must constantly remind the veterans of our appreciation for their service,” he said. “Please join me in thanking all our veterans.” Quoting John F. Kennedy, Mr. Nevin said, “The highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live them.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 14 November 2013 11:01
In a powerful show of community unity Monday, about 150 people crowded the boardroom at the Lincoln Center to mostly support Sherman Alexie’s critically acclaimed 2007 novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”
After a public hearing, the school board unanimously voted to keep the book in the required curriculum.
Alexie’s book is a coming-of-age adolescent tale about a boy transitioning from living on a reservation to going to a mostly white school. Problems seem to plague the awkward 14-year-old protagonist and poverty-stricken Spokane Native American, Arnold Spirit Jr.
Gail Supola represented three parents who’d requested the book not be on School District 2’s required reading list. She spoke of the novel’s coarse language via Alexie’s sardonic and oft self-disparaging narrator Arnold, and she lambasted the media for portraying her in a negative light.
“During this whole process my words have been misconstrued greatly,” she said. “I want to ensure that every parent and child is given the option or alternative – otherwise known as a choice – about what they have to read without being afraid of persecution.”
Supola deemed the book irrelevant to learning about Native American culture, as it only perpetuated crude stereotypes. The book, however, has been vetted through Montana’s Indian Education for All act.
IEFA was a policy written into the state’s constitution in 1972. Article 10, Section 1, states, “The state recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its education goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity.”
Supola read several passages she deemed offensive. She asked, “How does the statement, ‘If God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, he wouldn’t have given us thumbs. I thank God for thumbs,’ not cross the line between church and state?”
She added, “I fully agree that no one has the right to ban books, nor should anyone have the right to force children to read controversial materials. Rights are rights – no matter on which side you stand.”
The three parents who opposed Alexie’s book were far outnumbered by supporters, however. Roughly half the crowd comprised Native Americans, and dozens - many of them School District 2 students - waited up to two hours to speak in defense of the novel.
Young Native students told how they related to the narrator’s plight of going from a reservation to a white school while facing prejudices and culture shock. Students who described themselves as “middle class suburban white kids” said the book opened a world previously alien to them, even though it was just miles away on reservations.
An elderly immigrant citizen from Germany, Hannah Carter, said she immediately bought and read the book after seeing it was challenged.
“What it did to me was it brought back the grim situation when I grew up under the Nazi government in Germany,” she said. “We were blocked out and not allowed to read things in high school - those wonderful, wonderful stories and poems from Jewish writers.”
Under Hitler and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, “Only hatred was allowed. We could not discuss it with our teachers to ask why it was that way,” she said. “But I believe in our schools, and I believe in our teachers!”
Like several other students who spoke, Mia Anderson said once she started reading the book, she couldn’t put it down and read it one sitting. Noting it’s the only required book written during current students’ lifetimes, she said, “If you want us to love reading, then quit taking away the books we love.”
English teacher Glenda McCarthy, an Australian immigrant who also taught aboriginal children in Australia, was the one who proposed the book be put on IEFA’s required reading list - a fact she said she’s proud of. Although she sympathized with concerns about vulgarity, she said the book is realistic.
“The ugly things said to Arnold in this book are said to children in this district,” she said. “We need to understand the prejudices some of us endure, and generally that’s not people with my color of (white) skin in this community.”
McCarthy said the book isn’t merely about masturbation or profanity – although Arnold is a normal 14-year-old boy with active hormones.
“He prefers geometry and straight A’s,” she said. “He wants to excel and have an opportunity for something better than the unfortunate circumstances of 200 years of historical trauma he was born into. Arnold is a hero. I think that’s so needed in our district and community.”
McCarthy told the three anti-Alexie parents, “Although I support your right to choose what to read for your children, please don’t take this book from the rest of us.”
Senior High student Michael Sievert joked that as a white, middle-class, suburbanite teen, he was obviously an expert on Native American oppression. But joking aside, he said having no relatable experience with Indian characters like the ones represented in Alexie’s book was exactly why they needed it in high schools.
After also reading the book in a single reading and then recalling lively classroom discussions about it, he said, “It made me comfortable to empathize with a culture that many of my classmates had – to say the least – ‘mixed-feelings’ about, and legitimately form a connection with them. Alexie’s highly relatable prose actually made me think about Native American issues.”
Sievert said the challengers were not about choice, but wanting book options taken out entirely. He said “offensive” passages were taken out of context, and crude racism in the book is unfortunately how many Montanans view Indians.
“I hear slurs against them every single day in the halls of Senior High, and it’s vile,” he said. “Challenging this book effectively removes the discussion and knowledge we can glean from it.”
Christie Falls Down – whose sons Tim and Chad collected more than 1,000 signatures in support of the novel – said the book was personal to her. After Chad recovered from a two-week coma, he was severely withdrawn and they were worried he’d never be the same.
After intently reading Alexie’s book several times, however, “Something amazing happened,” Falls down said. “Chad talked and talked, and talked! I’m thankful for this book. I’m worried if it’s taken out of the curriculum, some student may miss the chance of being helped in some way.”
Student Bryce Curry – a friend of Chad’s – said although he’s white, the story provided a window into the lives of Native Americans he hadn’t had contact with until he was in seventh grade.
“This book clears up and gets rid of a lot of prejudices and misconceptions people have,” Curry said.
“You know the parts that are ‘controversial’ and ‘offensive’? They’re meant to be offensive for a reason: to show that yes, prejudices do happen. The racism and prejudices natives face is real. It’s not in the past, it’s in the present, and will remain in the future unless we openly discuss it in classrooms and show why it is wrong.”
Luella Brien, a Crow tribal member, recalled a time when as a journalism student at the University of Montana she experienced shocking bigotry in a classroom debate by a fellow student.
“This book is my story on paper. Here I was: an enlightened, senior year journalism student, and I was told to ‘shut up and go back to the rez!’” She wryly added, “So of course, I wrote a column about him.”
While working for The Billings Gazette, she says she’d set up interviews in the area over the phone while using a “professional” voice. When she’d show up to predominantly white suburban areas, however, she’d knock on doors and no one would answer.
“I was just a little too brown for their neighborhood,” she supposed. “The themes in this book happen to native students all the time. They’re ugly, they’re raw, they’re everywhere.”
As a communication arts instructor at Little Big Horn College on the Crow Indian Reservation, Brien has taught Alexie’s book to students who’ve always struggled with English in her developmental writing class. For most, it’s the first book they’ve ever read in their lives with great pleasure that they could relate to.
Brien concluded, “So why not give School District 2 students the opportunity to have these discussions in 10th grade instead of waiting until they come to my class? So when Sherman Alexie writes, ‘Books should give you a boner,’ that’s not a bad thing.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 14 November 2013 10:55
Toyota and the National Audubon Society announced last week that a Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowship will be awarded to a Billings-based environmental educator. After a competitive nationwide selection process, Darcie Howard was selected for the year-long fellowship program and a $10,000 grant.
Audubon and Toyota select 40 high-potential conservation leaders to receive Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowships each year. With their $10,000 grants, Toyota TogetherGreen Fellows conduct community projects to engage diverse audiences in habitat, water or energy conservation. In addition to receiving support to help launch their conservation initiatives, Toyota TogetherGreen Fellows also benefit from specialized training and membership in a diverse national network of conservation professionals.
Howard will launch a project to establish a citizen science program at the Audubon Conservation Education Center that integrates technology to engage teens in nature and science.
“Toyota TogetherGreen Fellows help people engage with nature. They look like America: diverse, passionate and patriotic,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold (@david_yarnold). “They are environmental heroes and we’re excited to give them a chance to invent the future.”
“I am honored to be part of an amazing group of fellows from across the country,” said Darcie Howard, Toyota TogetherGreen Fellow. “I believe in my project and am excited to begin working with Senior and West High Environmental Science students.”
The Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowship Program invests in conservation leaders of all backgrounds, providing them with resources, visibility and a growing peer network to help them lead communities nationwide to a healthier environmental future.
Since 2008, 240 conservation leaders from across the country have been awarded Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowships. They have engaged nearly 150,000 people in a wide variety of conservation efforts nationwide.
A complete list of 2013 Toyota TogetherGreen Fellows and details about their conservation projects can be found at www.togethergreen.org/fellows
Last Updated on Thursday, 14 November 2013 10:46